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Ecotourism, or environmentally responsible travel, is no longer just a trip with backpacks, spending nights in the open air and with little comfort. The world’s best resorts are adding “eco” to their names, combining sustainability with a high level of service. Luxury-Eco is a new concept that combines two seemingly opposing directions. Since luxury is defined as a good or service that is not considered to be a necessity, it is associated with waste. In reality, however, rarity and durability lies in the concept of true luxury. It is not something mass produced but precious, therefore it is in luxury brands best interests to protect scarce resources.
“Luxury brands can not be that proud about their performance on social environmental issues yet,” says Dr. Jem Bendell, Associate Professor in Griffith Business School. The business of luxury, however, cannot be isolated from the problems of pollution, climate change and scarcity of resources. The question is not whether luxury industry could be green, but how it could do so.
“The biggest problem in sustainability in any industry is that there is no general definition of what it is,” comments Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor for the Financial Times. The possible answers could be an efficient use of resources, help to local communities, and decent working conditions for employees. Currently each industry faces the challenge to define its own sustainable practices to make sure the resources we have today will be available tomorrow.
The tourism industry is one of the first that has developed criteria for a clear understanding of what sustainable tourism is, and the rules the tourism business should follow. The framework, called the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, published in March 2012, covers four main directions: effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage and reducing negative impacts to the environment. Market leaders make efforts to follow the criteria.
The Marriott, for example, is about to spend 75 percent of its budget this year to get sustainable furniture and equipment. Another giant, Hilton, managed to cut waste 19 percent during 2010 with its system LightStay. The company states an objective to cut energy consumption by 20 percent, CO2 emission and waste output; water consumption is to be cut by 10 percent in the period from 2009 to 2014. Hilton’s sustainability policy includes eleven points, one of which is engaging team members through training, tools, and active involvement.
Not only employees, but also customers, should be educated. Hotels cannot limit clients’ consumption of food, water and energy, but what they can do is to create a community with recommendations that are easy to follow. Practices such as changing the towels only when necessary, not using straws for cocktails and reusing glasses are not restricting, therefore customers are likely to respect them. The key here is to give visitors the idea about their contribution. It’s not enough for a hotel to claim to be green. The figures about reduction of water use and energy and contribution to the local community must be presented. The Sol Melía chain, for example, reported 35,506kg of waste collected and recycled for hotel. Another important factor to look at while choosing a green place is whether a hotel has environmental certification.
The current challenge common for all luxury industries is how to make customers accept and follow green practices. Kavita Maharaj, the Director of Global Corporate Relationship in Havas Media, is optimistic about the future: “It’s quite clear from the research we have done that consumers want it. They say quite categorically: we want to be a part of the solution, we want to be engaged in this issue and do something about it.”
In the end, luxury has sustainability in its roots. “The essence of real luxury is to sell high quality, creative and rare objects with an image of good taste and elegance. Thus luxury is resource dependent and obsessed by the sustainability of its resources,” says Jean Noël Kapferer, expert in brand-management.